Acceptance and commitment

IMG_2356All too often, I find myself in conversations where the general sentiment seems to be that it is indeed hard to be in group, as it means you play gigs for little money and small audiences, release records with no financial support and just feel generally irritable all the time. I often contribute to these conversations by giving an account of some particularly humiliating incident, often involving nasty music bloggers or greedy small-time promoters. But I can’t help to think what the teenagers of today would feel, were they ever to overhear our conversations. I was a teenager when I started Cats on fire, and even though I’ve been frustrated by being in a group ever since, I can also imagine myself overhearing a group of older men complaining about the fact that their music don’t get any airplay and that they don’t get any festival gigs. In fact, that must have happened many times, but I can’t remember that I’ve ever sympathized with these older men (and yes, they’ve been men). Instead, I have always thought “My God, why do you seem to think you are entitled to listeners. You are not, especially not when you’re playing music that is so amazingly passé. Get over yourself and get out of the way. Or be content with playing in that niche category for old people.”

Now that irony laughs back at me, I don’t know whom to concede points to. Surely the young upstarts of today, with God knows what they’re playing, will grow weary and drop off some day, exhausted by the never-ending, seemingly arbitrary pseudo-progress of modern music. But that doesn’t make the disgruntled old-timers any less unbearable.

As in other areas of life, I’ve tried to adapt a more accepting attitude towards all this. Yes, I do feel disenfranchised and extremely privileged at the same time, but I should view these feelings as results of my poor head trying to cope with the situation of just being alive, not as absolute truths or something that demands action or/and more inner struggle. Yes, I do feel desperately unable to enjoy current music and equally unable to embrace notions of a golden era. I’ve learned I should let this pass. The thoughts don’t mean I’m a closet conservative. I don’t have to come up with convoluted statements like, for example, this: Steady stylistic progress and even complete revolutions happens automatically in music and doesn’t need organisation. Embracing progress is the same as embracing the status quo. We don’t, which makes us the real progressives. See, that doesn’t take me anywhere, yet sometimes it feels it is all I’ve been doing these past few years.

Over and out.

One day these men will listen to me

I need something and I have to ask someone. That someone is a big, working class male. I speak up. He continues to do whatever he is doing (sorting small items) without responding or recognizing my presence. I explain further, but when he turns away, I stop, confused. Some helpful soul in the room says “Peter…”, to which he responds with “I’m listening, go on”.

“Oh, sorry, I got no indication that anyone was…”, I said. Again no reaction.

As Hitler must have said: One day these men will listen to me.

La Storia (Cats on Fire, Italy, December ’13), part two

Milan tram

I want to briefly return to Naples, because I feel I didn’t quite do the evening justice in part one of this story. Also, one reviewer of our show in Milan thought we had said something about our equipment being stolen in Naples, which we didn’t, because it wasn’t. I’d like to stress that although Naples is often shabby – with façades crumbling off the façades – the promoters and the venue owners were doing something ultra-modern. They had re-appropriated an old building in a simply stunning way, and the atmosphere was magical.

The left-leaning, stylish middle class in Milan didn’t seem to think they had much in common with the southerners of Naples, one assumption being that people came from Naples to Milan to steal rear-view mirrors and sell them for 4 euros. How can you trust a paesano that steals your rear-view mirror? How can you trust him with anything?

“Cut your hair”, the stylish, self-proclaimed Stalinist behind the bar said to Janne. I liked the bar, and the man and the woman behind the bar. They clearly knew what they were doing. But I don’t think they knew that we were staying in a studio on Via Gluck when they played “Il Ragazzo della Via Gluck” by Adriano Celentano on YouTube after the bar had closed. Adriano, a lone man with a sort of a deranged swagger, was walking in a field, voice-syncing the song. I knew the Swedish version of the song (“Lyckliga gatan”), so I had an idea what the original, Italian lyrics might be like. And I had drunk a Negroni cocktail. But when the bar people described them to me, and I realized we were living on the same street that Adriano Celentano was singing about, I reached a sentimental climax. He sang about the raising of high rises on his old street, and in a wider sense about the destructive and dehumanizing aspects of modernity and urbanization. And it wasn’t any old street, it was Via Gluck, temporarily our street. Was everything possible, again? Or was it the false promise of 1/3 gin, 1/3 campari and 1/3 vermouth, again?

La Storia (Cats on Fire, Italy, December ’13), part one

Via Gluck

There’s something about the light, yes, the winter light in Rome is in a different spectrum. Structures reflect light in shades and hues radically different from the ones just seen at home, and the experience of a different colour universe is a promise, an earthly one. There are other lives to be lived, other feelings to be felt, before the requies aeterna. The colours of the inner landscape changes with the light outside.

We sit at a restaurant, we are home made, we are not much more than a hole in the wall, we are family. We are near the Colosseum, now being repaired by a shoe company looking for ad space and good PR. The public sector couldn’t afford it. Could we suggest a name change as well? That could fill holes in walls and budgets.

What is normal wear-and-tear in the eternal city?

To name a new city “New city” has seemed like a great idea to many. None of them lived to see their city get really old. Naples is old and worn. Some had said dangerous, too. “Did you get robbed?” was the question of the day. But we weren’t robbed. Playing in Naples was the opposite of getting robbed. Lanificio 25, a venue overseen by the ghosts of abandoned cotton production and catholic worship, was kindly given to  us this evening and we did our absolute best.

To organize, as far as I understand it, is what living creatures do to accomplish things they couldn’t accomplish each on their own. Organizing society-wide projects in modern societies seems to require a combination of 1) force and 2) trust, between people who share an abstract notion of common ancestry, or perhaps only a common set of ideas, but who otherwise have very little to do with each other. Now, Italy, as any modern state, has obviously had its fair share of both. After all, the railroad tracks had been laid out, from Naples to Trieste, and the train was a-rollin’. But otherwise, I don’t know. Would it be fair to say that the heart wasn’t really in it? The train ride from Naples to Trieste was eight hours long. We, starting to get a bit peckish after two hours or so, asked where the restaurant car was. There ain’t one, we were told. All right, so were’s the trolley, or the bucket with the small bags crisps? A shrug of the shoulders. Maybe the guy had overslept.

I don’t think it was the hunger, or even the thirst (there wasn’t even water!), as much the shrug, meaning “that’s just the way it doesn’t work” that made me furious. A few stops later, I saw a vending machine on the platform, but was told I couldn’t get out, since there wasn’t enough time. “Maybe there’s a machine in Arezzo”. When the train stopped in Arezzo, I ran along the platform, but no luck. And so it continued, up and down the platforms and in again, just in time, but with no food. Once I got a bottle of water, but when the sandwich was on its way out, the doors to the train started closing and I was forced to abort the mission. In Bologna, we made a concerted effort and got back in just in time, with some water and some whiter-shade-of-pale sandwiches. I survived the rest of the ride to Padua on rage alone.

Nikolaj non-alcoholic lager

beer_43151Nikolaj alkoholiton olut, I read. Although I was only six or seven, I knew there was something slightly odd with a piano teacher who brought a can of beer with him to a lesson. Alcoholic or non-alcoholic. He was my third teacher in as many years and however grateful I am to have been able to get proper, old-fashioned, municipal musical education from an early age, I won’t deny that the hours I spent in that room often felt impossibly long. The strict, sinister tone of the building was probably mostly coming from inside my head, but I wasn’t a consistently gloomy child, so my downcast perception of the whole affair surely had its external reasons. One was probably the lack of a common language. I was Swedish and understood no Finnish. The teachers, mostly Finnish, spoke to me in a joyless, heavily accented Swedish, stripped of all nuance and softening words.

Most of the teachers I recognized as friendly, though. I wasn’t so sure of the man with the beer can, though. He had pearls of sweat on his forehead before we had even began. His nervous manners also expressed annoyance, like he was on the run from a petty crime. Yes, he must have shoplifted a chocolate bar and a beer can before each lesson.

One day, he was gone. ”Gone back to Kuopio”, the new stranger told me. Later I heard he had smashed the piano lid shut on the hands of a student, or was it a slap on the wrist? It was only hearsay, but there was something unhinged about that man.